While classical Catholic traditionalism in the line of the late Archbishop Lefebvre has not developed very strongly in Quebec, a variety of very specific Catholic groups originating in Quebec itself have found fertile ground there. Some of them have been undergoing changes and realignment in recent years, either attempting to remain within the sphere of the Roman Catholic Church or going their own ways.
The role played by female leaders or figures has been prominent in several of them. These were some of the main observations derived from a session of the New Religious Movements Group devoted to religious groups inside, outside or parallel to the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec at the American Academy of Religion in Montreal. In his presentation, Paul Gareau (Concordia University) looked at the Army of Mary, a group that defines itself as strongly Catholic, but was nevertheless excommunicated in 2007 for heresy.
Its key figure, Marie-Paule Giguère (b. 1921), occupies a very special role in the elaborate doctrine of the Army—a new understanding of the Trinity as a Quinternity encompassing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, along with Mary the Immaculate Conception and Giguère herself as the Lady of All Peoples and the daughter of God. In 2007, the Army of Mary initiated the “Church of John” with its new pope, Padre Jean-Pierre, as a transmutation of the Church of Peter. Gareau discussed in his paper how a group that consisted of conservative Catholics could reconcile itself with excommunication from the church. He explained that this was primarily a matter of resilience: the members put the emphasis on their unique position in salvation history and see themselves as a divinely ordained continuation of the Roman Catholic Church, not negating its normative structures, but elaborating on them.
More generally, Gareau sees the Army as an assertion of feminine symbols that characterize popular devotion, which a male hierarchy attempts to keep under control. Thus the members of the Army of Mary manage to avoid a crisis of cognitive dissonance—and might actually illustrate wider trends beyond their own case for understanding the psychology of schism. However, the evolution of conservative Catholic groups can follow a quite different pattern, as evidenced by a paper presented by Martin Geoffroy (Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities) about the Pilgrims of St. Michael (their official name since 1963), more commonly known as the “White Berets”, because of their distinctive headwear.
While critical of modernist trends within Roman Catholicism, the White Berets were originally primarily a political group of devout Catholics, advocating the ideals of “Social Credit” for a total reform of society (an economic theory elaborated in 1917 by a Scottish engineer and economist, Major Clifford Hugh Douglas).
Initially a political movement entering (with limited success) into electoral competitions, it then transformed itself more into a pressure group and, from the 1960s, at the same time that Quebec was undergoing rapid secularization, it became increasingly religious—aspiring to create a Christian world, as opposed to a modern world under Satan’s rule.
While the White Berets have failed to convince the Catholic Church to adopt the ideas of Social Credit and have been very critical of modern developments in the Church, they have managed to avoid schism—a fact that might partly be due, Geoffroy suggests, to the fact that they steer away from thorny theological issues and are “doctrinally and pragmatically oriented towards long-established traditional socio-economic ideas and practices rather than towards new religious revelations and messages transmitted by their leaders as coming directly from heaven.”